In contrast to Stromboli, which is in constant activity, and to Vesuvius, which alternates between eruptions and long periods of quiet, Etna is always surrounded by a plume of smoke, with eruptions close together, every year or two.
Take a quick review of the most recent lava flows and eruptions, spectacular and catastrophic: the memorable eruption of 1669 is perhaps the most famous and destructive because it reached and destroyed the outer part of the town of Catania, and descended to the walls of Ursino Castle, creating over a kilometre of fresh ground on its way through. The eruption was preceded by a strong blast and an earthquake that destroyed Nicolosi and badly damaged three other villages on the South face. Then, an enormous fissure began to open up from the summit with enormous discharges of lava. The huge lava flow advanced inexorably, burying six medium sized villages, heading for the sea. This is how the Rossi Mountains (literally Red Mountains) were formed in front of Nicolosi. The eruption went on for 122 days.
But the longest eruption in history remains that of July 1614. The phenomenon continued for ten years and emitted over a billion cubic metres of lava, covering 21 square kilometres on the Northern side of the volcano.
Although volcanic eruptions usually come from one or more of the craters at the summits of the volcanoes, Etna is one of those rare volcanoes in the world that has seen, within living memory, the emergence of new eruptive craters, formed mainly during the last century. As if its geological life is fast-tracked so that people can see it.
More recently, in 1928, Etna produced the most destructive eruption of the XXth century. This led, in just a few days, to the destruction of the town of Mascali on the East side.
In 1981, the eruption of very fluid lava reached and cut the Circumetnea railway. A branch of the lava stopped only 200 metres from Randazzo, on the North side.
The long eruption of 1983 is known for having been subject of the first world attempt to deviate the lava flow using explosives.
On 14 December 1991, began the longest eruption of the XXth century (lasting 473 days). In this case, too, a confinement strategy led to the construction of a containing wall twenty metres high which, for two months, held back the lava flow.
But it would have served for nothing, if Etna’s eruptions had not ceased.